So-called experts will mostly claim that nuclear energy production is safe, that redundancy after redundancy has been built into nuclear power plants in the U.S. to reduce the catastrophic risks that they pose. But after the incident at Fukushima in Japan, how can we be so sure that these redundancies will stand up to unforeseen natural or man-made disasters? Or do we think ourselves so wise as to believe that our engineers in the U.S. have taken all possible catastrophic scenarios into account concerning nuclear reactors? I think it would be wise to remain humble.
Discussions over nuclear policy usually tend to leave out the elephant in the room: nuclear waste. At present, there is no repository in the U.S. for waste, nor is there one even on the docket. A clear question arises then: how responsible is it to continue accumulating thousands of tons of nuclear waste without a clear and feasible solution to the repository dilemma? Consequently, how responsible is it to continue relying on nuclear energy for nearly 20% of the U.S.’s energy production? What sources of energy production are being obscured by a focus on nuclear energy?
But of course, the issue of the safety of nuclear reactors and power plants is beside the point. The question still remains: what we are going to do with the waste that is manufactured with each kilowatt-hour of energy generation? No local, state, or national politician seems willing to touch this issue with a ten-foot pole because there is such little consensus surrounding the issue and so much outrage at the idea of putting a nuclear waste repository “in my backyard.” The outrage goes beyond the not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) idea as well.
There is no guarantee, regardless of expert assurances, that stored nuclear waste will remain benign for thousands of years to come. There’s no guarantee that stored waste will even be harmless for a generation or two. There are no guarantees, period. This area is uncharted in human history and if history means anything anymore, we should be aware that new fields of practical application come with their mistakes. What would be the potential costs of a nuclear mistake?
If you’re skeptical, you’re not alone. I don’t recall many “experts” ever predicting a Three Mile Island or a Chernobyl occurring. It will be argued, though, that U.S. nuclear reactors were and are much more sophisticated (i.e. safe) than those at Chernobyl and that we have learned the lessons of Three Mile Island. Japan also thought they had learned lessons from these incidents too, and they were wrong and we have yet to discern the full extent of the consequences. Given the alternative sources of energy like wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass, why is there even serious debate surrounding our future reliance on nuclear energy?
The answer is clear even though the politics more often than not obscures the commonsense solutions. Americans shouldn’t have to concern themselves with 30 foot protective walls to prevent a major loss of human life or economic welfare. Americans shouldn’t have to place their energy dependence on a source of energy that could, at least in theory, literally be used to annihilate the planet. With safer and cheaper renewable sources of energy available, it is insane to continue down the path of nuclear energy.
While human beings have harnessed the power of nuclear energy, we apparently haven’t consistently harnessed the power of sound policy or common sense. We tried nuclear energy and we still have more questions than answers, more concerns than relief, and more disparate sources of energy available for the market than ever before. Why continue to play Russian roulette when there are safer games to play with greater rewards? Why not actually begin to focus our time and energy on renewable sources of energy like wind, solar, geothermal, or biomass? Let’s not wait for a U.S. Fukushima to occur before we start questioning the wisdom of pursuing nuclear energy.